Authors: Kristen Heitzmann
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #General, #Religious
If I die this minute I will not have lived in vain. For I have seen
the face of my child and his name is joy. He is perfect in every feature,
fearfully and beautifully made. Wolf said we will call him Quillan. He
has a lusty cry
Quillan stared a long while at the words, memorizing, planting them in his brain. He had ceased thinking of Rose as a woman despised and now sensed her love for him. It was there in her words. Why, why hadn’t it been there in his life?
The very next entry reminded him why. Wolf. Rose wrote the tale he’d heard in many variations, how his father went berserk at Quillan’s birth, howling like a banshee driven to murder. He knew now that Wolf had not committed that murder. It was Henri Charboneau. His brother the priest, Father Charboneau, had made that known, but only now a quarter century after his mother’s writing.
She had no reason to doubt the deadly possibility that Wolf was in fact crazed. Why? Why had his father reacted that way to his cries? Quillan shook his head, frustrated by the partial answers. And then he entered the most painful pages yet.
I tried to give my baby to the priest. He alone has shown us unflagging
kindness. But he won’t take my son. I am in anguish, for the one he
names is not one I would choose. What choice have I? Quillan’s helpless
wailings I am unable to quell, for what baby was ever born who didn’t
make his needs known? Wolf cannot bear his cries, though I will carry
them forever in my heart
He closed his eyes. This woman whom he’d despised, reviled— this woman he’d called a harlot—had faced a terrible choice. He knew now how painful it had been. She hadn’t cast him aside lightly, as he’d been told. Hadn’t spurned him to pursue her filthy ways. She’d surrendered him for his sake . . . at least as she believed.
I must think of Quillan no more or I will surely go mad. Wolf wept
when I told him what I’ d done, but he did not set out to recapture his son.
He knows the truth of it. I can’t find it in me to hate him, though my soul
wants so badly to blame someone, something. There is only myself
Of course, she had blamed herself. It seemed her nature to assume the guilt, though it was largely that of others, not Rose, not this mother who had loved him. Quillan dropped his face to his hands. He was tired. He could forgive himself the tears that wet his grainy eyes.
Not many pages remained, and his slow tears continued as he watched his mother fade, her mind turn and lose connection with what was real.
Sometimes I see them playing on the floor, Quillan and
Angel together. How beautiful they are. But they don’t stay. I feel so cold.
I feel cold all the time. The sun can’t penetrate the chill. It comes from
And then the final entry.
I’m bringing this book to Father
Charboneau. Perhaps one day he will give it to my son. I can only hope
that Quillan will have compassion on the one who bore him. For there
is another inside me whom I cannot bear to see. God have mercy on my
Quillan sat in silence. His eyes dried as he sat reading the words over. His mother’s last hopes were for his compassion and God’s mercy. Compassion he’d never given her. And God’s mercy? There was no such thing. Or he would never have been led to believe his parents monsters unworthy of anything but disdain.
As he thought of the venom that had been poured into his ear, lies and half truths, his anger kindled. Now he knew the truth. Yes, his mother had sacrificed her virtue, been seduced and deserted. She had even entered Placerville with intentions to degrade herself further. What choice was left to her?
Did that make her an object of scorn? Rose Annelise DeMornay. Who were her people? Would he ever know? Did he want to? He sank wearily back into the chair. Rose must have come from somewhere before she found her way to Placerville. Her writing exhibited a keen intelligence and delicate nature. He pictured his mother young, frightened, horrified by her plight, slipping away from her home . . . where?
Quillan closed his eyes. The clock in the hall chimed four. He felt depleted in every way, but he knew sleep wouldn’t come. If it did, it would be haunted with flames and charred flesh. And now he would care. God help him, he would care.
Hollow with fatigue, Quillan emerged into the early morning chill. For once he had no definite plan for the day, his ability to plan, to think, to act as elusive as sleep had proved. The Denver street was scantily peopled, so he jolted when he heard his name. He turned to meet Horace Tabor.
“Quillan. I hardly expected to find you here.” Tabor caught up to him and extended his hand. “Thought for sure you’d be holed up with that comely wife of yours.” There was mischief in his pale blue eyes.
Quillan ignored it as he shook Tabor’s hand.
“You look almost as bad as when I saw you last. Recurrence of fever?”
Quillan shook his head. “A bad night is all. Hod, you know the area, don’t you?”
“I should say so.”
Quillan deliberated his next question almost long enough to resist asking, but not quite. “How would a woman come out, say, to Placerville in ’51?”
Tabor reached into his coat and pulled a cigar from a chest pocket. He bit the end and spit it on the street. “A woman, you say?” He fixed the cigar between his teeth and from another pocket took a silver matchbox. He paused before removing a match. “Mostly on a conveyance bringing women of repute to perform in a new locale.”
Quillan kicked the boardwalk with his boot toe.
“Why do you ask?” Tabor struck the match and held it to the end of the cigar. His cheeks hollowed when he sucked, and his mustache billowed over his lips as he puffed out the smoke.
Quillan shrugged. “No way to tell, then, where they’d come from?”
“Not likely.” Tabor took the cigar from his teeth. “Say, Quillan, what’s this all about?”
“A woman named DeMornay.”
“DeMornay. The William DeMornays?”
Quillan’s heart pounded quickly. “I don’t know.”
“If so, he hails from St. Louis, but as luck would have it, he’s a Denver man now. If he’s not a relation, he might know something.”
Quillan’s fatigue became agitation.
“You want me to introduce you?”
Quillan turned as a carriage rolled past. Did he want an introduction? What were the chances there was any relation between his mother and this man? And if there were, what could he say? I’m the son of your daughter? Niece? Sister? The woman who was scandalized and married a savage in a gold field? Quillan felt too weary for words.
“My boy, are you all right?”
“I’m all right. No, I don’t need introducing.”
Tabor tugged his gold fob and pulled the watch from his pocket. “I’ve an appointment shortly, but if you change your mind . . . not that William DeMornay’s a close acquaintance, but our paths have crossed.”
Tabor eyed him a moment, then smiled. “Tell me the truth now that Augusta’s not here to spoil the fun. Is your wife ugly as a one-eyed mule?”
Something wrenched inside him. “My wife is beautiful, Horace.”
Shaking his head, Tabor tucked the cigar back between his teeth. “If you don’t beat all. Nice seeing you, Quillan. I’m sure we’ll meet again.”
Quillan half waved, then turned back to the hotel. He was weary enough to sleep through any dreams that might come.
Carina looked at the faces of the miners as they ate the holiday meal she and Èmie and Mae had prepared together. Her stores were too low to do all she might have hoped. Freighters had nearly stopped making any trips through the pass, and she was thankful for the six layers Quillan had brought, or she would have no eggs for the pasta at all.
But this meal wasn’t her creation alone. Mae had made the gingerbread, Èmie the corn pudding. Mr. Makepeace and Joe Turner had provided the brandy and earned themselves a place at the tables with the miners, extra tables having been added until there was hardly room to squeeze between them.
But no one complained. There were cuts of wild turkey roasted in chokecherry preserves and long crusty loaves of bread. Carina’s lasagna bubbled in heavy iron pans, one after another being spooned out, then layered again and put in to bake.
It was odd to make the lasagna with venison, but no cattle herds were driven to the area once the ways were blocked with snow. And seasoned, the venison served as well as beef, though neither compared to the spicy sausage she would have preferred. Carina walked around the tables, smiling as the men thanked her. “You’re welcome, I’m glad you could come.”
She recognized faces of men she’d tended after the flood. Some she recognized only from the other meals she’d given them. The sheer numbers had dropped as winter drove many to lower elevations. Crystal was almost tenable with the snowpack stopping the dust, and the crowds cut by half. These men were the diehards, those who bore up under any temperatures and conditions.
She caught Alex Makepeace watching her. From his position against the far wall, he raised a glass of brandy in toast, his easy smile already in place. Beside him, Joe Turner also turned. He motioned her over and she obliged.
“Well, Mr. Makepeace, do you still grudge the men these little dinners?”
“Little dinner? It’s a veritable feast. And I’ve never grudged them. I only envied them.”
She laughed, turning to Joe Turner. “You see how well his Harvard education stands him? He’s never without a reply.”
“May I offer you a brandy?” Mr. Turner held up the bottle and a fresh glass.
She shook her head. “No, grazie. I can barely stay on my feet as it is.”
“Then sit.” Alex motioned her toward a chair, vacated by a miner near enough to catch his motion and move out.
“You do look a little peaked, Mrs. Shepard.” Joe Turner’s voice was gentle. “Though not diminished in any way, mind you. Fatigued?”
“To hear you go on, I’ve one foot in the grave.” Carina waved a hand.
Mr. Makepeace nudged her toward the chair. “Sit, Mrs. Shepard. Your operation won’t go to pieces if you rest yourself one moment.”
“Spoken by one who puts in longer hours than his miners.” She dropped elegantly into the chair.
He smiled. “I have the constitution for it.”
“Meaning I haven’t?”
“Meaning . . .” He bowed slightly at the waist. “That you shouldn’t have to.”
“But I want to, Mr. Makepeace. These men keep my husband in business, eh?”
In the corner someone took up a violin and began to play. It was a lovely, soulful tune that Carina didn’t recognize. The violin was joined by a small guitar played by a lanky man with very few teeth. The scent of gingerbread filled the room as Èmie, Celia, and Elizabeth carried chunks of it out on trays. The men cheered.
From her position, Carina scanned the room. This was the first time she’d sat with a full dining room before her. Now that she was down, she doubted she could rise again very soon—her legs were that tired. So she clapped with the men as the musicians struck up a jig and one bandy-legged Irishman used the narrow tile splash before the fireplace as a dance floor. She glanced up to find Alex Makepeace watching her rather than the dancer.
Her hands paused as their eyes met, his inexplicably kind, and hers, what? She dampened her lips with her tongue and returned her attention to the jig. The smell of the pine and cedar fire, the spicy gingerbread, and the softly falling snow out the window just behind her shoulder made the perfect ambiance to revel in the Christmas spirit. She closed her eyes a moment, letting it seep in.
Joe Turner and Alex Makepeace stayed after all the others left, then helped to clear and strip the tables. Carina laughed. “I should offer you a wage.”
“Never.” Joe Turner put a hand to his chest. “It’s little enough for all you do.”
“Is it so much, Mr. Turner?” Her voice had a plaintive tone.
He caught her hand between his. “Maybe not so much what you do, but how you do it. You raise the spirits, and that, Mrs. Shepard, is what we men need more than food in our bellies.”